Stacie Burgua has witnessed so many fine performances in her more than 20 years with Whidbey Island Center for the Arts that she’s hesitant to name just a few favorite moments.
“Sometimes, I sit in a seat in the theater and it’s humbling,” she said. “They are really talented people up on the stage. They’ve sacrificed a lot for the company. It’s their passion.”
After 18 years as WICA’s executive director, Burgua is bowing out.
Verna Everitt, a Vashon Island native who spent 17 years in film production in Los Angeles, was selected as the new executive director by WICA’s board of directors last month. She starts Sept. 1.
A farewell retirement reception for Burgua is scheduled 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 25 at WICA’s Zech Hall and patio. The public is invited to share a complimentary toast during a short program honoring Burgua’s 21 years with the Langley arts center.
Burgua does admits to one scene she could have done without over her many years overseeing the multi-purpose arts centers.
It involves glitter.
Lots and lots of glitter, courtesy of the fans of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“Glitter was everywhere, the lobby, the restrooms, the carpet,” she recalled. “The show was great fun but not the glitter.”
Burgua is credited with bringing financial health, steady growth and artistic excellence to the nonprofit organization that was facing tough times when she was appointed executive director Jan. 1, 2000.
“The community of South Whidbey has been treated to a terrific display of art, music, theatre, dance and notable speakers during her time at the helm,” said Earl Lasher, past chairman of the WICA board. “Her creativity, ability to direct and inspire, and engagement with the community has resulted in a fantastic facility, which educates, stimulates and entertains thousands of people, both on island and off.”
The center hosts year-round music, theater, dance and film events as well as educational camps and conferences with a paid staff and legions of volunteers.
WICA sells 12,000 to 13,000 tickets a season, which runs from September to June, and 90 percent of the income generated is put right back into the community, according to Burgua.
Next month, it hosts Djangofest, the five-day music festival that began with two bands in 2001 and has evolved into the premier showcase of gypsy jazz music in North America, attracting international musicians and fans.
Created by a consortium of artists, business people and local families, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts opened its doors and its 246-seat theater in May 1996.
At the time, Burgua had been volunteering at various community groups and became known for her marketing, fundraising and software programming skills. She decided to inquire if the new arts center needed help.
“Twenty one years ago this month, I walked in and just thought ‘home.’ It just felt like that’s where I should be.”
Burgua was hired as the administrative assistant on Jan. 1, 1998. But the nonprofit was struggling with how to pay its bills and accomplish its stated mission: “To inspire, nourish and enhance the artistic, social and economic well-being of the community.”
During the organization’s first three years, three executive directors came and went. The board then offered Burgua the top post Jan. 1, 2000.
“That was one tired board,” she recalled. “Honestly, there was no way I was qualified to do that job. I was just the last one standing.”
The nonprofit organization was bleeding red and had no business plan.
“It felt somewhat bleak,” Burgua admitted, “but the community embraced this place and the show must go on.”
Learning many new skills, such as how to hit the sweet spot of pricing a show ticket — which must consider artists fees, number of theater seats and what the public will pay — kept the show going.
Burgua also had to figure out how to win back support from local entertainers and artists who felt priced out and disenfranchised from their own arts center.
“We were struggling with the artists in the community,” she recalled. “It was either ‘lock the doors’ or ‘just let it be a rental.’”
An evening of music from community talent called Locals for Locals was launched. Tickets sales from that show fund the Local Artists Series, a program allowing local concert performers to receive free rent and box office fees at WICA. In addition, the artists keep all admission collected for the shows.
“That was a huge commitment to bring the artistic community back into the fold,” Burgua said.
Langley resident Frank Rose, on the WICA board when the center opened and when Burgua was named executive director, recalled Burgua’s ability to negotiate controversial issues.
“What I most appreciated was that she challenged all issues on the table, until there was consensus,” Rose said. “That is a valuable asset for any organization to have.”
The Stage Two campaign to expand the arts center was launched in the fall of 2007 with a coming recession lurking around the corner. More than 280 individuals, 20 businesses and eight foundations contributed to the campaign that doubled the size of the multi-arts center, adding much needed room for props, a set room and black box theater.
“The fundraising was incredibly important on many levels,” Burgua said. “We wouldn’t be here if the community didn’t come together twice to raise funds. That’s how supportive this community is of their arts center, and it’s something to be proud of.”
Burgua is also known for letting WICA go to the dogs.
Jackson, a Jack Russell, was a steadfast presence with Burgua on the job. His many duties included official greeter and bodyguard when Burgua had to check the dark backstage area.
WICA has staged more than 75 community theatrical productions, including Pulitzer-Prize winning plays, Broadway musicals, off-beat dramas and holiday shows, all with the spirit of including all who want to be involved.
“That’s why I tell my staff I’m leaving,” Burgua says, pointing to a reception area wall filled from bottom to top with framed show posters. “There’s no more wall space.”
Saying she still knows little about the finer points of theater, Burgua credits Deana Duncan for WICA’s community theater success. Duncan was technical director for years and is now programming and production director. She’s also acted in many plays.
“I hired Ms. Deana Duncan out of Woodinville and she’s the one whose expertise and talent have shined behind the scenes all these years,” Burgua said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to witness it — but as a patron in the seats.”
Peggy Juve, co-founder of the Island Shakespeare Festival, said WICA’s growth spurt and accomplishments led by Burgua will be felt for years to come.
“The foundation she has helped to build is strong and lasting, and for that we at ISF and throughout our community are forever grateful,” Juve said. “The truest testament to her tenure is WICA’s continued success for years to come.”
— Retirement party honoring Stacie Burgua, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 25 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, 565 Camano Avenue, Langley. Public welcome. Featuring food, live music and a complimentary champagne toast and short program.